Indigenous History Month focus: Indigenous cannabis news

| Contributor

As the cannabis industry matures, Indigenous peoples, our businesses, communities, and equity opportunities are increasingly involved and impacting it.

This review of StratCann news spotlights Indigenous voices in both the successes and disputes, which are being heard loudly and clearly. Regardless of the outcome, the recognition of Indigenous peoples in the Canadian cannabis industry is stronger than ever.

“In the budding landscape of Canada’s cannabis industry, the anticipation grows like the roots of a resilient plant, as Indigenous communities are poised to be welcomed and embraced, cultivating a future where our knowledge and presence flourish.”

Kesean J Kanhai, CEO & Creative Director of Cree Cannabis Company and Reekie’s Coffee

Wab Kinew’s influence on cannabis progression in Manitoba

Eight months after his swearing-in, Wab Kinew and his NDP government approved a change in Manitoba’s provincial legislation to allow its residents to grow from home

The repeal’s response has been incredibly supported. Kirk Tousaw, one of Toba Grows’ lawyers working hard alongside advocate Jesse Lavoie and the Toba Grown team, shared his perspective, saying, “Premier Kinew’s decision to end Manitoba’s ban on cannabis home gardening was one of the first times since legalization that a legislature has made progressive changes to cannabis policy. Manitobans should be very pleased to have a government that responds to bad laws by fixing them.” 

Previously, Melanie Bekevich, owner of Mistik Cannabis Co. and Peace Pipe Cannabis Co., operating in Alberta and Manitoba, shared her team’s enthusiasm at ‘this historical win the government actioned.’ The winner of the GrowUp 2024 Award for Indigenous Retailer of the Year continued to share, stating, “We know this government will work meaningfully with the industry as we work towards a stable and thriving industry. Lifting the ban on homegrown cannabis was a common sense move that aligns Manitoba with the rest of the country.” 

Red market controversies

Yes, there are the well-recognized ‘illicit’ and legal markets. Still, somewhere in between reservations, band treaties, and sovereign land claims, there is another market operating within what many claim are the laws of the Indian Act (which many Canadian Indigenous peoples refer to as “the red market”). While the debate of sovereign land and its cannabis legalities has continued for years, it is essential to note there are vast differences in treaties between sovereign communities, the provincial and federal governments, and band leaders’ decisions to allow cannabis sales and operations. 

Winners of GrowUp 2024 Indigenous-Retailer of the Year Award, Othmar Joos, Owner, Mistik Cannabis Co. Melanie Bekevich, Owner, Mistik Cannabis Co.  & VP of Retail Cannabis Council of Manitoba.

In some unique cases, indigenous-run companies and First Nations Bands have had conflicts, such as in December between Indigenous Bloom and Tseycum First Nations on Vancouver Island. Indigenous Bloom signed a lease with the Tseycum First Nation Band in 2019 to operate a store on reserve land. In 2020, the First Nation took over the store and told the owners their previous agreement was invalid. As a result, the court found in favour of TFNB, citing that the Buckshee Lease signed by TFNB was void.

There are many debates and concerns about the sovereign rights of Indigenous bands and the span of their treaties that can be interpreted to allow cannabis to be sold and regulated outside of Health Canada. It is a case-by-case basis, and even in Nova Scotia, courts rejected the Millbrook First Nations Cannabis Sovereignty Argument on June 13. The judge ruled that the defendants did not provide a compelling argument for aboriginal or Treaty rights attached to their cannabis store operations and rejected charges related to the raids. 

Yet mere months earlier, New Brunswick said it can’t enforce its cannabis laws on First Nations Reserves. This and other supporting comments were made by Krist Austin, Public Safety Minister of New Brunswick, following the introduction of new legislation meant to give officers from the Department of Justice and Public Safety more power to deter illicit stores. Another recent instance was the raid by Ontario Provincial Police of three indigenous-run unlicensed cannabis stores branded as “Indigo Smoke” in March.

OCS supports BIPOC participants for budtender event 

Since its launch in 2021, The Ontario Cannabis Store’s Social Responsibility Strategy, which focuses on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals, has distributed $375,000 to six organizations and $319,000 to Black-led initiatives. In addition to these supporting financial initiatives, $60 million has returned to the Ontario market.

More recently, the OCS has partnered to sponsor Tether, Budtender Community, with a 5-Equity Grant program for their Ottawa Sampling Event to increase the presence and participation of Ontario-based BIPOC brands and Licensed Producers. Tether is partnering with StratCann’s Growing Relationships event series for this one-day industry event.

Katie Pringle, Tether’s CEO and Co-Founder, spoke to this milestone opportunity, stating, “We’re grateful for the support of the OCS at our milestone gathering, Tether’s Ottawa Sampling Event. Tether’s goal has always been inclusivity, encouraging both small and large brands to participate in our events with the mission to amplify diverse voices and perspectives.”

Featured image from inside All Nations cannabis farmgate store in Chilliwack, BC and on the traditional territory of Shxw;ay Village First Nation.

Author: AKB is a biracial Indigenous writer & strategy consultant based out of Kelowna, BC. you can find her on Twitter

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